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David Ortiz takes the stage to accept his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Written by on July 24, 2022

Ortiz arrived in Boston in 2003 as a relatively obscure first baseman who was released from the Minnesota Twins. He finally exited after a historic season in 2016, when he set just about every MLB record for a 40-year-old hitter and ended his final season leading the big leagues in OPS (1.021).

He was a 10-time All-Star, a Home Run Derby champion, an American League Championship Series MVP, a World Series MVP, a three-time World Series winner who helped break an 86-year drought, a seven-time Silver Slugger Award recipient, an eight-time winner of the Edgar Martinez Award presented to the best designated hitter, a seven-time finisher in the top-10 of A.L. MVP voting and retired as one of only four players with at least 500 home runs and 600 doubles (Hank Aaron, Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds are the others) while ranking 17th in MLB history with 541 home runs and 12th with 632 doubles.

If you head over to Fenway Park, you just might drive over the David Ortiz Bridge or take a turn onto David Ortiz Drive. You can find David Ortiz Way and the David Ortiz statue in Fort Myers.

His No. 34 is retired on the right-field facade at Fenway Park and now his face will be forever enshrined in Cooperstown as one of the greatest baseball players in history.

The Red Sox found a hidden gem in 2003 and they held onto him for the next 14 years, paying him whatever it took to keep him in Boston and then paying him again in retirement to remain indefinitely as a front office advisor.

As long as Ortiz is alive, it’s a sure bet that he’ll be associated with the Red Sox in some capacity.

There will never be anybody like him to wear the uniform. And a long wait until the next player enters Cooperstown with a Red Sox cap.

Mookie Betts had a chance. An undersized second baseman who was an afterthought as a fifth-round pick in 2011, Betts sky-rocketed up the minor league ranks and captured an MVP award and World Series trophy before turning 26. He wanted to be paid for it and the Sox said no, then shipped him off to Los Angeles for three players who have hardly made an impact in Boston.

Xander Bogaerts could’ve been the guy. A scrawny teenager from Aruba, Bogaerts was a goalie on the soccer field and a shortstop on the diamond. The Sox signed him as a 16-year-old for $400,000, watched him win a World Series title as a 20-year-old in 2013 and add another in ‘18. He’s been the top-ranked offensive shortstop since then, but the Sox failed to extend him and Bogaerts is almost certain to test free agency this offseason.

Then there’s Rafael Devers, the baby-faced kid from the Dominican Republic who earned a $1.5 million signing bonus while the world awaited his sure-fire assent to the top of the baseball universe. It didn’t take long, as Devers won a World Series as a 21-year-old in ‘18 and currently ranks as the No. 9 hitter in baseball by OPS since the start of 2019.

Will the Red Sox ever again have a long-term face of the franchise like Ortiz? Someone who Sox ownership ensures will finish his career in Boston and waltz into Cooperstown wearing a “B” on his cap?

The more we wait for it, the further away it seems.

Ortiz wanted to be here, sure, but the Sox paid him like they wanted him here, consistently raising the bar for what designated hitters were worth (even it required a few public spats in the media to get the deals done).

They signed Ortiz to several extensions, including a four-year, $52-million extension in 2006, when then-general manager Theo Epstein told reporters it was an “easy decision for us.”

Then in 2012, they avoided arbitration by giving him a $13-million annual salary that made him the highest-paid DH of all time.

And in 2014, they signed him to a three-year extension, despite critics who thought it was a gamble to commit more than $15 million per season to a player who would be 41 before the contract expired.

Then-president Larry Lucchino told reporters, “We want him to be a guy who… stayed with us for the rest of his career.”

How weird it would’ve been had the Red Sox at some point decided they’d be better off letting Ortiz test free agency and replacing him with a younger, cheaper alternative.

Today’s Red Sox are trending in that direction.

They’ve only retained players who would take sizable discounts compared to what they’d get in free agency. The Sox stopped paying their own guys at a rate consistent with top-tier players at similar positions.

Of course, there will never be another player quite like Ortiz. There won’t be another personality quite like his.

And unless something drastically changes with the Red Sox’ outlook in the next 18 months, they could be saying goodbye to more worthy replacements who could’ve been the next Hall of Famers to spend the majority of their careers in Boston, too.

Savor the moment on Sunday. It’ll be a special day in Cooperstown. There won’t be another one like it.

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